Utilizing gas as energy resource for power
Engr. Patrick Nzekwe, a thoroughbred professional leads the team of Clarke Energy Nigeria Limited, a multinational specialist in distributed power generation solutions. The organization is the authorised distributor and service provider for GE’s reciprocating gas engines in Nigeria with a strong focus on after sales support. Engr. Nzekwe had an insight in all aspects of the engineering profession having trained as a Marine Engineer, then as a Mechanical Engineer and with a strong exposure to Electrical Engineering. In this exclusive interview with Nnamdi Nwokolo, the man who has seen it all at Guinness Nigeria Plc having retired successfully after twenty six years of active service spoke on the Focus of a CEO.
Interest in developing power generation solutions:
My interest in developing power generation solutions started from when I returned to Nigeria after my studies and brief work stint abroad; the thing that hurt me most was that despite how wealthy Nigeria is, we cannot generate adequate power for ourselves. In some parts of many states, power is basically non-existent.
The interest of what can be done was aroused especially when you see the amount of gas being flared in the Niger Delta region. I joined Guinness Nigeria Plc when I returned to the country and I was instrumental to bringing gas to the company. When I retired successfully after twenty six years of active service,I joined other colleagues in supporting the establishment of Clarke Energy’s Nigerian operations.It will interest you to know that Clarke Energy Nigeria Limited have a real commitment to developing power generation solutions from low carbon and renewable fuels.
The biggest challenge:
The biggest challenge we face as a company is making people to realize the benefits of converting gas to power. When we started, it was very difficult to spread the gospel as Nigeria have little or no knowledge about gas usage, except the cooking gas that is very common at the time. Nigerians did not see gas as energy resource for power. When the gas pipelines are being laid to Lagos, many people did not know what it was all about.
The challenge then was how to convince industries on the need to utilize gas as a cheap, clean and alternative energy resource for power.General acceptance therefore was quite low as no one wanted to have anything to do with gas.The first company that keyed into this gas to power project in a large scale was Flourmills of Nigeria Plc as they bought 27MW of electricity; 9 engines of 3mw each and it was able to power all their factories. The equivalent price was abouta quarter of the price of diesel and they made so much profit from it before people even realized it.
On the difficulty in developing gas for power:
There are a lot of factors and the first is the lack of understanding on the part of government. Theoretically, they may say it is good to utilize gas for power but they did not spend adequately to make it worthwhile. The reason I said so is that some eight years ago, Nigeria came up with a gas master plan; the plan was to lay a gas pipeline from the Niger Delta to Lagos, another to be laid to Kano while the third one will be laid through Enugu to Adamawa.
Apart from the Lagos gas pipeline that was successfully laid to a large extent, others were virtually moribund. The government would have taken the bull by the horn and run the pipelines especially when we had oil boom but because of lack of understanding of the full benefits of developing gas for power, they couldn’t follow it through. But the story is changing as industries are keying into it and they are saving money as well as enjoying it by eliminating waste, pilfering, transportation costs, ensuring cleaner environment, etc.
Availability of the product:
When you connect to the national gas pipeline, you can forget about every other thing as you are guaranteed of 24hrs supply of gas. As long as oil is still in Nigeria, there’ll be gas. It is noteworthy that gas is not only available in Lagos but also in Benin, Port Harcourt, Aba and adjoining areas. We’ve had gas for nearly 10 years in Lagos with over three years continuous operation, without interruptionsand at the moment we’ve not had up to 50% utilization of the supply. It will interest you to know that gas is also a green and renewable energy.
On the Power sector reforms:
Power sector reform is a veritable tool to National development and power solution in the country. The only problem we have there is proper management, are we doing it right, do we have the right people to legislate? Don’t forget, everywhere in the world people like to manipulate but if a system is put in place to punish offenders, people will have no option than to comply. Now, that it has been privatized, I believe that we’ll work hard to make power more efficient and better for Nigerians.
Outstanding accomplishment as an organization:
The number one achievement is being recognized as a power generation solution provider in the country; we can go into the details of it. We started small to the point where we are regarded as the best in captive energy. Since our Nigerian operations started in 1999 Clarke Energy’s installation base of engines has steadily increased to become the fastest growing gas power generation supplier in the region.
Our locally based team has delivered –about 300MW of electrical generation capacity to many large industrial facilities across Nigeria, seeking economical, reliable captive power plants. Clarke Energy is also able to deliver multi-engine power plants for independent power producers, and supplied one of Nigeria’s first gas-fuelled IPP facilities at Akute.
If you ask companies that have been converted, they will tell you in all sincerity that they’ve saved a good percentage of operational cost and about 50% in stating it mildly. You cannot compare the gains of gas to diesel as gas is cleaner to run, can’t be stolen and the engines are easier to maintain.
Having succeeded in Lagos, we have extended the success journey outside Lagos as we have companies in Port Harcourt, Aba, and Ajaokuta, using our gas engines to run their factories.
Local content in your operation:
This is a very interesting question. We are actually trying to follow up with government. You’ll agree with me that the gas is locally sourced; it is only the engines that are imported. What we’ve done so far is that we have almost succeeded in Nigerianising our company. Our company’s focus on localisation is an important component of our success in Nigeria.
The company employs over 860 Nigerian nationals, trained to the highest international standards with product-specific training in Europe. We operate a policy of localization by recruiting local sales and service engineers to support the company’s operations. These teams are trained at Jenbach in Austria and at Clarke Energy’s dedicated GE Jenbacher training facility in the UK.We will get to a stage where if our business continues to grow well, we’ll attract a company that manufactures these engines in Nigeria for the African hub. At the moment, Clarke Energy have branches in Tanzania, Kenya, South Africa and Cameroun.
Principles that helped you to get to the top:
What I teach about life to my children and people who are close to me is that if you cankeep your hands straight and do your professional job properly and consistently you must excel to the peak of your career. I can cite the example of a cleaner, who picked money at the airport and returned it, she’s being celebrated everywhere today, We must remain professional at all times in other to excel.
Meaning of success:
For me success means more hard work and in some cases suffering, but with satisfaction. Success also means being recognized by what you put in place. For example, Clarke Energy has won the Service Excellence Award at the African Energy and Infrastructure Awards Night organized by African Leadership Magazine. We started in a small office in Apapa where Clarke Energy supplied its first major gas engine into Nigeria.
Happiness to succeed is the driving force. Honestly by the time I was leaving Guinness, I’ve no idea of what next to do, but my mind kept telling me that there’s still a lot to be done. Today, the driving force is the realization that we are contributing towards utilizing gas as energy resource for power.
Advice for young people:
If you must succeed, you must exhibit the virtues of perseverance, hardwork and patience. The challenge is that young ones today are very impatient. If you take your time, your efforts must be recognized and rewarded. There’s a lot we can do for our country if we all join hands together.
Yes I play golf and I socialize as I belong to quite a number of Clubs, including Lagos country club. Some weekends, I relax and take my family out.